Big George Foreman, with the passing of the great (or greatest) Muhammad Ali, has become the oldest living former world heavyweight champion, and the 67-year-old legend sure has a number of tales to tell. Foreman has literally seen it all, done it all, and lived to tell the story of it all. George has had some quite amazing life, no doubt. But despite all he has witnessed, the incomparable Ali still leaves George somewhat mystified and in awe.
These past two weeks have seen Foreman share with us all his memories of Ali, and George has paid great tributes to the former three-time king. One of the more interesting things Foreman had to say about his one-time archenemy came on the latest episode of Jim Lampley’s The Fight Game. Foreman spoke of an unexpected phone-call from Ali, “in the late ’70’s.”
At the time, when he had quit the ring to become a preacher, Foreman received a phone call from Ali, who askied him – or, more accurately, was pleading with him, to “come back and beat Ken Norton for me.”
Foreman told Lampley:
“I do not know how he got my number. He called me and complimented me for about twenty-minutes then he said, ‘ George, would you do me a favour? I said, ‘Certainly.’ He said, ‘Please come back and beat Ken Norton and fight him for me ……I can’t beat him. George, you can, he’s afraid of you. I’ll let you use my training camp and everything but please come back and beat him for me.”
As fans know, Foreman, in his sole meeting with Norton, crushed his challenger inside two impressive rounds. Ali of course never really managed to figure out Norton’s style, beating him by two razor-thin decisions after losing his first encounter with the ex-marine. Foreman may have fallen to Ali’s magic but when it came to making Norton disappear, he was the man, not Ali. So when exactly did Ali call Foreman with his “request?”
Ali had his third fight with Norton in September of 1976, retaining the title he had regained by stopping Big George two years earlier. Norton, and a whole lot of other people, felt the verdict handed in at Yankee Stadium was a bad one. Norton wanted, demanded, a fourth go at Ali and he was in a prime position to get what he wanted. But if the retired Foreman came back (he was after all, just 28 when he quit after losing on points to Ali and Norton common opponent Jimmy Young) and crushed Norton once again, Ali would have been off the hook. Maybe this is what Ali had in mind: Foreman gets rid of his boogeyman and then, in return, he gives Foreman – a man he would have been sure of beating again – a rematch. This scenario might have seemed a whole lot more palatable to the ageing Ali than a fourth, nip-and-tuck, stylistic nightmare of a fight with Norton.
Of course, Foreman ignored Ali’s pleas; waiting instead until 1987 to make his ring return. Ali, then, never got everything he wanted. But how different might heavyweight history have been if George had paid heed to Ali’s mysterious phone call?